A MUSICAL ODYSSEY
www.hillmanweb.com/albums/album01.html
BILL & SUE-ON HILLLMAN
RECORD ALBUM #1
THE WESTERN UNION I
Galaxy Records ~ GSLP 1012
1969-70
Bill and Sue-On Hillman ~ Barry Forman ~ Jake Kroeger

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BEHIND THE SCENES
By late 1969 we had pretty much touched all show biz bases: bars, concerts, tours, TV & Radio, exhibitions media coverage, etc. The logical progression now seemed to be to get something on record. This was a very difficult undertaking at that time as there were no professional studios in the area. Nor was there anyone who knew anything about getting original songs published, record production, manufacture, distribution, promotion, etc. In our search for contacts we found that about the only records being produced in Manitoba were ethnic (largely Ukrainian) and gospel.

Enter Alex Moodrey, who had produced and distributed a number of Ukrainian music albums on his Winnipeg label, Galaxy Records. The deal we made with Alex was that he would record us in his studio, pay for the pressing and jackets, and would then have rights to our album which he would distribute through his network of shops selling Ukrainian and ethnic music - which included stores in Chicago, of all places. All we would have to do would be to promise to buy a few hundred records. His profit on our guaranteed purchase would cover all costs of production and manufacture of 1000 albums and then anything he sold beyond that would be to his pocket.

At the time, the deal sounded like a good initiation into one facet of the business that was still a bit of a mystery to us. So, we went into rehearsals. Since there were four us us in the Western Union at that time, we decided that we would each be featured on three songs -- this meant that Sue-On and I would have one whole side of the proposed album to ourselves. We chose a mix of songs we were familiar with, along with a few more obscure "classics" that we thought were long overdue for fresh exposure.

Barry did three fiddle numbers: We had been adapting Cajun-type fiddle material into our stage shows because they lended themselves to the more driving sound we were starting to get with the heavy backbeat Sue-On was now getting out of  her new drum kit and the more biting sound I was eking out of the Fender Telecaster guitar that was starting to replace my Gretsch. 

Barry's first instrumental was a Cajun number by Don Rich of Buck Owens' Buckaroos - Down on the Bayou. He followed this up with our country rock-flavoured version of the old folk song - Eighth of January, better known as The Battle of New Orleans. Barry has always done an excellent job on old time waltzes so it was natural that his next choice would feature the beautiful, Twilight Waltz. A regret that we all shared on Barry's numbers was that we didn't hire a session bass player. Barry played bass on everyone's songs except his own - for which he moved to fiddle.

Jake has a great voice for ballads, so his first choice - Hangin' On - was a good one. It also gave me a chance to experiment with the recently-installed Bigsby tremolo bar and home-made B-bender on my Tele to try to come up with steel guitar sounds.  Jake's next choice was Merle Haggard's Branded Man. A bit of a thrill for me as I got to sing on my first record. Jake comes from a church background where he grew up singing in choirs and quartets. As a result he has a good grasp of harmony -- an area I was very weak in, since on most of my duets with Sue-On, she had always sung the harmony parts. In our stage shows then, I would sing lead to the chorus of his Branded Man and he would take the harmony parts. Since voice-overs were not possible on this session, we decided to do the song as we had always done it on stage. His third  song was the Hank Williams classic, I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry.

Sue-On opened our side with the beautiful Lefty Frizzell waltz ballad, Mom and Dad Waltz - a song that we thought was ready for exposure. One of her show-stopping stage songs was Silver Threads and Golden Needles to which we had worked out a rock arrangement. Then, for a change of pace, she chose one of the most requested songs from our TV shows: Tiny Bubbles - a song I got to try harmony on. Sue-On has really an amazing voice. In a matter of seconds she can switch from projecting uptempo songs where she barely needs a mic, to soft, whispery and throaty ballads.

For my quarter of the album I chose two guitar instrumentals and an old Red Foley song -- Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy - a number that I used to like as a kid. It's a song with good rhythm potential and is a lot of fun to sing. My first instrumental was a country standard -- The Steel Guitar Rag -- in an arrangement I had worked out on the Telecaster. In keeping with our trying to do three entirely different types of songs I chose medley of a couple rock/blues tunes for my second instrumental: Freddie King's Hide Away and the Wailers/Kingsmen hit, Louie Louie. We've always had a habit of trying to work as maximum number of song titles onto a session or stage show.

Being limited to three numbers each, we all put a lot of thought into the choosing of these numbers. We had a few rehearsals at Jake's farm near Rapid City but were a little nervous and a whole lot excited when we finally carried our gear into the "big time" recording studio. Also joining us on the session was Warren Hannay, a drummer I had worked with in rock bands a few years back, but we hadn't been able to get together for a full rehearsal with him. All of us were more than a little bewildered at the location of the studio: The Winnipeg Grain Exchange. Alex Moodrey's Galaxy Recording Studio was actually some sort of all-in-one portable system which he somehow wrangled permission to set up for the day in a room in this Main Street old office building. When we arrived on Saturday morning -- November 29, 1969 -- It wasn't quite what we expected: linoleum floor, bare walls, street and corridor noise, engineer Alex sitting on a rickety old wooden chair behind a stereo reel-to-reel recorder perched on sort of a kitchen chrome table, and a half dozen cables leading to mics scattered around the room. Everything would be recorded live to tape, without the benefit of baffles, EQ, reverb, DI, overdubbing or even enough mics. A whole lotta trial and error. The play backs we listened to after recording each number were not too promising, but we gave it a game try. Alex promised us that everything would be fixed in the mix... mmmm... what mix?... and echo would be added down east at the mastering plant. We couldn't help but wonder just how they were going to change the sound of poor Warren's kick drum which sounded like some sort of giant Salvation Army bass drum. Somehow, after a long day's work, we got the twelve songs down, signed releases and binding contracts and then five shell-shocked musicians stumbled out onto Portage and Main -- we didn't feel much like recording stars.

The next stage of this project was to supply Galaxy with a band photo to put on the record jacket. The people at CKX-TV and Radio were very obliging -- we were one of the first bands in the area to put out a record album, and since we had done shows at CKX for many years, they readily supplied a photographer and the use of their studio so that we could pose with a TV camera in front of one of our sets.

When the final product arrived we were happy with the look of it but the finished mix was a shock -- delay echo on every voice and every instrument... Whew! Like no record I'd ever heard before... or since -- botched in post production -- but even so, it had its satisfying moments. Because of our TV show and regular live performances, the record sold pretty well -- but, foreshadowing the situation in years to come and the success of future releases, we didn't sell any in our home towns. Still seeking acceptance, a few years later, we even went so far as to do hometown tribute albums and actually  featured the hometown area in a chapter for a college-level geography textbook I was commissioned to write for Brandon University and the University of Manitoba. The book is in its third printing but we have yet to sell one locally.

This stumbling, humbling debut experience in the recording world only seemed to whet our appetites. We learned from our mistakes and benefited from the experience, and a year later we were about to embark on our second recording venture -- the first of a long line of independent recordings for which we would retain complete control and ownership.


Regrets... we had a few:
  • Mr. Moodrey used half of the space on the back cover of our record jacket to advertise his other artists and their Ukrainian records. Being on an ethnic label and this strong association with a stable of Ukrainian artists didn't really present a true representation of the type of music we played and we ended up being promoted to the wrong audience.
  • We gave away all rights to the material. It may yet come back to haunt us.
  • The band didn't hire a bass player to play on Barry's fiddle numbers. Moodrey compensated for the missing bass by putting a mic even closer to Warren's already booming bass drum.
  • The band didn't have enough rehearsal time with Warren Hannay, who was an experienced rock drummer but, one who hadn't done a lot of work with country bands.
  • We asked Alex if he could add echo on some of the vocals as they were flat and lifeless. He said it could be done in the mastering plant in Ontario. The people at the mastering plant immersed everything with actual echo delay with multi delay repeats on every song. This would have been fine on vocals, but, there were only two tracks so the slap-back echo affected every instrument - including the drums. A jumbled aural mess!
  • Half the credits and information we had supplied were left off the liner notes -- much to Warren's chagrin as he wasn't mentioned anywhere on the record.
  • I had been worried that the hum from my guitar's Echoplex tape echo effects unit would be picked up. I needn't have worried. Alex's system masked it with much bigger hums and hisses... and runaway echo.
  • We had absolutely no control over what Galaxy did in the final sound, manufacture, promotion, or distribution of our product.


PHOTO GALLERY circa 1970

Photo courtesy CKX-TV
Studio where we had done 
regular noon and weekly shows 
since early '60s.

Galaxy Records version 
album of liner notes. 
All their other albums
done by Ukrainian artists.
Sue-On's Portrait Displayed at Brandon Art Show
Sue-On's portrait displayed
at a Brandon art show. 
Photographer/artist Stuckey
had done coloring and touch-ups.
1969 Business Card
Our 1969 business card
East meets West.
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Sue-On and Bill On Stage - Summer Tour Late '60s
Sue-On and Bill On Stage 
 Summer Exhibition Tour Late '60s.
Sue-On later moved to drums fulltime
Sue-On - Jake and Barry with our debut album
After a show at CFB Shilo
Sue-On, Jake and Barry
Signing our No. 1 album
On set of Western Union CKX-TV Show
Sue-On and Bill
Promo shot
CKX-TV show
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Bill and Sue-On in CKX-TV Studios
Bill and Sue-on
CKX-TV Studio
Western suede | Chinese silk
Photo from Brandon Tourism Book
Sue-On | Bill | Jake | Barry
Publicity photo for a
Brandon tourism book.
Sue-On in first Publicity Still
Sue-On in our
first glossy 8"x10"
for off-stage sale
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Back Cover Liner Notes
Eight years of regular television work, five Canada tours, countless stage performances ~ why not an album? The Western Union is a union of different personalities ~ a union of country, rock and folk, resulting in a sound that is unique.

SUE-ON was born in China, moved to Hong Kong at the age of two, and arrived in Newdale, Canada eleven years ago. Her marriage to Bill Hillman introduced her to the world of entertainment. Sue-On, who is a vocalist, drummer, and pianist in the group is a teacher by profession.

BILL HILLMAN - Lead guitarist and vocalist, is a native of Strathclair, Manitoba. Bill has toured with Bobby Curtola, and has appeared on shows with artists such as the Everly Brothers and Roger Miller. It's a wonder that Bill took time from teaching high school or collecting old radio shows and records to record an album of  his own.

JAKE KROEGER - Rhythm guitarist and vocalist calls home Rapid City, Canada. Jake in his spare time manages to run a farm. His unique vocal stylings and love of music are a result of his earlier gospel singing and quartet work.

BARRY FORMAN - who plays bass, accordian, fiddle, etc. is a chemistry teacher from Rivers, Manitoba. He has appeared on numerous stage shows with such artists as Don Messer, Tommy Hunter, etc. etc. His "Cajun" Style fiddlin' is in direct contrast to his early classical training on the violin.

WARREN HANNAY - Warren was recruited to play drums on this session. He and Bill had previously worked together in the rock band: THE DOVERMEN. Mr. Moodrey who designed the album covers had left Warren's name off the original vinyl LP jacket.

CONTENTS
SIDE A
1. Down on the Bayou (Don Rich) ~ Fiddle by Barry              2:18
2. The Eighth of January ~ Fiddle by Barry                              2:11
3. Twilight Waltz ~ Fiddle by Barry                                            2:35
4. Hangin' On ~ Vocal by Jake                                                    2:26
5. Branded Man (Merle Haggard) ~ Vocal by Jake & Bill        3:03
6. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry (H. Williams) Vocal by Jake  2:50

SIDE B
1. Mom and Dad Waltz  (Lefty Frizell) ~ Vocal by Sue-On      3:00
2. Silver Threads and Golden Needles ~ Vocal by Sue-On       2:55
3. Tiny Bubbles ~ Vocal by Sue-On & Bill                                    2:40
4. Steel Guitar Rag (McCauliffe-Travis-Stone) ~ Guitar by Bill  1:50
5. Hideaway Louie (King-Thompson) ~ Guitar by Bill                    2:45
6. Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy (Stone-Stapp) Vocal by Bill            2:19

LISTEN TO THE ENITRE ALBUM
A Massive Slow-Loading WAV File

Photo Courtesy CKX Television, Brandon
Drums by Warren Hannay
Recorded at Galaxy Studios, Winnipeg, MB
Arrangements by The Western Union
Produced by Alex Moodrey
2017 Vinyl to Digital Transfer by Robin Hillman

FROM THE ONLINE MUSIC PHOTO GALLERIES :: 70s DECADE
www.hillmanweb.com/cards

Click for full-size collage

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From the CKX-TV Photo Archive

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BILL and SUE-ON HILLMAN: A 50-YEAR MUSICAL ODYSSEY

BOOK COVER
BOOK CONTENTS
1. Gig Notes: 1-10
2. Album Notes
3. Guitar Tales
4. Prairie Saga
5. Roots
6. Photos
7. Media
8. 100 Songs

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